Commentary

July 13, 2012

Resiliency: A challenge at any pay grade

By Chief Master Sgt. Kurt Schmidtman
57th Operations Support Squadron

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Promotion to chief master sergeant is often seen as one of the ultimate accomplishments in an enlisted members’ career. Yet as a Chief, it can seem like one is expected to be impervious to outside pressures simply because we have years of experience in dealing with personnel issues of every description.

In my experience, proud Air Force members of every age and grade stoically absorb every manner of stress until there is an event that makes the “water rise above the nose.” Then, and that is still a maybe, Airmen might seek help.

I discovered the hard way this is the wrong approach.

My tenure here is my only experience as a Chief. Upon arrival from Aviano Air Base, Italy, with my wife and high school graduate daughter, we were greeted with a break-in to our only automobile, resulting in the theft of my PCS briefcase. This had our medical records in it.

Then, we purchased of a lemon of a used car, and experienced the shock associated with acclimating to the USA via a downtown high rise apartment in Las Vegas.

This was compounded by the loneliness experienced by my daughter and by her anxiety about heading off to college, which coincided with my spouse’s disappointment in being undervalued following her obtaining her bachelor’s degree in a depressed economy.

I took this all in and factored my own “shock and awe” at the Air Force responsibilities I was assuming, along with some moderate financial issues our family was facing, and slipped, ever so gradually, into depression.

My reaction to depression was a shutdown of what seemed to me to be “non-essential” efforts, in deference to keeping a grip on the most important aspects of my life: my family, followed closely by the U.S. Air Force.

Unfortunately, the “non-essential” effort I chose was staying physically active. Without a corresponding change in diet, I ballooned to an unacceptably heavy state, which literally made it difficult to tie my shoes. This trend was a real threat to my career and in result, to my family.

From this low point, my family and my chain of command, with the help of Air Force programs, united to save me from myself.

My family encouraged me, without being a pain, to make changes and gave me extended encouragement for minor victories.

The chain of command gave great support while holding the line, maintaining standards. It was very therapeutic knowing that neither my or the unit’s integrity ever came in question.

Counseling and fitness programs further aided me in making the life changes, which culminated in my losing 40 pounds, cutting 5 inches from my waist, reducing my run time 3 minutes and improving my relations at home immeasurably.

Now, my service to the Air Force has never been sweeter.

I hope no one else has to travel down this road to visit the lows that I have. Instead, I simply ask that you take my word that early identification and becoming a willing participation in the management of problems may give you great satisfaction without the burden of my experience.




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